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You Cannot Do Away with the Jiva
Lola: Dear Sundari, how ya doing? I enjoyed seeing your name briefly at the webinar. Looking at your lovely husband, I was thinking, “I am an old romantic!!! Isn’t technology amazing!!!”
Sundari: Yes, you are a romantic! I was helping James with the webinar set-up as we had problems with the sound on the Friday night. But I do love to watch and to listen to him! I often have a video of him teaching on in the background when he is not with me, and love his voice. We enjoy time on our own (me more than him, as I’m a bit of a loner) but we also miss each other when we are apart. I shall be joining him in Berlin this Sunday en route to the U.S. where we will be for the next three months.
Lola: So the reason for me writing is to share some of my current self-enquiry thoughts with you. I am reading Isaiah’s journey in that long satsang he composed. And what I wish to share with you, is my take on the jiva.
On page 95, you said about how you and Ramji have your quirks as jivas, which is reassuring.
Sundari: Yes, of course, we are normal people like anyone else. We just know that our true identity is awareness and not the person. One of Ramji’s favourite sayings is, “I let James wander as far as he wants to because he always comes back to me.” We don’t censure the jiva because we understand them. We follow dharma at all times because peace of mind is our primary goal. We have a non-dual relationship, thus we do not see each other as other, so we never project, demand, blame or diminish each other. We enhance and honour each other as people because we know we are not the person but awareness.
Remember that understanding the relationship between the jiva and Isvara to be awareness makes it clear that the true identity of the jiva (along with all other objects) is ordinary awareness. The word “ordinary” is meant to negate the idea that there is some kind of special, spiritual, mystical, otherworldly awareness to seek. We are not special or different because we know who we are. How could we be?
Lola: Anyway, as I try to firm up my knowledge and remember that it is all Isvara, my simple observation is about the jiva, the apparent doer, and what apparently happens in mithya.
My take is that I cannot “do away” with “my” jiva in mithya because I am here at Isvara’s behest, to act out “my” part in this extraordinary creation which James calls “a funny play.”
Sundari: Yep, like it or not, the jiva is here to stay! Maya is just a funny play, but not so funny when you don’t know what it is.
Maya, which is the upadhi for Isvara (awareness plus the gunas), is said to be eternal because it is a power that exists in awareness and awareness is eternal. This is why maya is beginningless. Personal ignorance (avidya) ends for the jiva when the self is realised to be its true nature, ending its personal cycle of incarnation and suffering; but maya or macrocosmic ignorance and its effects (mithya) continue unchanged. However, the creation (mithya) is not always manifesting because maya is not always manifest. When ignorance or maya does manifest, Isvara in its capacity as a Creator appears, followed by the apparent creation (Isvara srsti), the world of sentient beings and insentient elements (objects).
A big problem many inquirers run into, thanks to all the rubbish that is “out there” in the spiritual arena on enlightenment, is the belief that somehow the person needs to be changed, perfected. Or when enlightened will assume mythic powers, become transcendental, soaring above life and all that is mundane. Well, it is just not like that! This is because the jiva never leaves the apparent reality, thus the jiva is and always will be limited, even though the essence of the jiva is awareness, which is unlimited (meaning not conditioned by anything). Awareness is and always has been limitless. Isvara is limitless with reference to the jiva but not with reference to awareness. When the self is actualised you are no longer conditioned by the jiva or by Isvara. This does not mean that you are exempt from the universal laws, or dharmas, that run the dharma field. You are not.
Isvara is always present in awareness but it is either manifest or unmanifest with reference to awareness. Therefore Isvara associated with maya, like the jiva, is not real either, although in terms of the apparent person, Isvara is “relatively” real and eternal. In other words, Isvara associated with maya is eternal or permanent with reference to the jiva and the objects it experiences, but impermanent with reference to awareness.
Lola: So the jiva I seem to be just has to read/follow the script and not think about it, to just be an actor in a funny play. The jiva has seemingly certain characteristics to portray and it won’t help arguing with the director if you don’t like it!!
Sundari: The jiva is the way Isvara made them. There is no point in going up against Isvara because Isvara is not a big person but an impersonal principle and there is no escaping it. Isvara is not a doer or a samsari. From the jiva’s point of view, Isvara is unlimited and the jiva is limited. From awareness’ point of view both Isvara and jiva are limited. Even though Isvara is omniscient relative to the jiva (because only Isvara has knowledge of all objects and the jiva only has knowledge of the objects it has contact with), Isvara, like the jiva, depends on awareness to exist.
Although Isvara is not conditioned by maya and is conscious and the jiva is conditioned by maya and is not conscious, both Isvara and the jiva are reflected awareness and make up the apparent reality. Therefore neither Isvara nor the jiva are real, real being defined as “that which is permanent.”
“Your” script is made up of your svadharma (your conditioning or inborn nature), prarabdha karma (momentum of past actions), the environment you were born into (dharma field) and your interaction with the environment, meaning your karma or life-situation. To be free of the script, it would definitely behove you to think about it objectively, from awareness’ point of view.
Freedom requires first identifying “your” conditioning, understanding it in the light of self-knowledge and then dis-identifying with the conditioning – and thus the jiva – as your primary identity. Freedom is not about changing or perfecting the jiva, an impossible (and unnecessary) task anyway. If the jiva is not real, why bother? That said, self-actualisation does not take place unless the binding vasanas are rendered non-binding and the doer negated. Understanding the jiva’s conditioning in the light of self-knowledge (the gunas) is the only way to achieve this.
As it is with all the teachings of Vedanta, knowledge is power. Sadly, many people try to control the gunas without understanding them. This can lead to a painful exercise in what is called “will power.” When we do things we recognise as harmful, but don’t understand the mechanism at work; we make resolutions, manhandling our psyche, so to speak. Sometimes these resolutions are kept; often they are broken. And we suffer accordingly.
As the gunas are maya; they are illusory. They draw us into the world of objects – including thoughts and feelings – and lead us to identify with these objects. The whole point of identifying the gunas (which are also objects) and managing them is to understand the gunas, not to be afraid of what is bad or become attached to what is good in the gunas.
Other than gaining the knowledge of what the gunas are and how they operate, which is half the battle, you can do a great deal to manage them through self-knowledge. This means that you know that there are appropriate actions to maintain peace of mind for the jiva. Many enlightened people do not bother managing the gunas and simply accept whatever transpires in the dharma field, knowing it has nothing to do with them. This practice is fine if the underlying motivation is not a refusal to face binding vasanas, or a way to camouflage the doer.
The fact is that unless the binding vasanas are rendered non-binding, there will still be agitation in the mind because rajas and tamas will still condition it. Freedom is not that free if the mind is still under the tyranny of its likes and dislikes.
This is a common trap for spiritual seekers and even for self-realised people, one the ego likes. Often it is not lack of self-knowledge that is the problem. It is just that the “self-realised” person is avoiding doing what it takes to change their behaviour, rendering their binding vasanas non-binding and getting their actions and lifestyle to conform with dharma. Many people try to avoid following dharma by trying to make self-knowledge work in situations (like work, relationships, money, etc.) that are unworkable, taking the karma yoga approach. But this will not work because your life has to serve the truth, not the other way around. Truth is impersonal. Neither awareness nor Isvara care one way or the other because neither awareness nor Isvara have a problem with duality. It is up to the jiva to choose peace of mind.
There are many things that impact peace of mind, such as lifestyle management. Take a look at your lifestyle and change what you can. Diet is very important for guna management. Learn which foods cause which guna. Examine what you do for a living, how you recreate, spend money and exercise. Stop hoarding unwanted “stuff” (psychological and otherwise). Examine your relationships with people. Don’t keep company with highly rajasic or tamasic people. Or, if you can’t avoid them, see how the gunas run them. See where they want things to be different and the pain it causes. People can’t help being true to their predominant guna when they are unaware that there is choice.
The practice of seeing how the gunas operate in yourself and “others” will put you in a whole new world of perception. Of course there really are no “others” as there is only one self with three guna-manufactured bodies. By that I mean that they work the same way in everyone. The gunas run the show for everyone who is identified with the body/mind and the story of personhood.
If the effects of ignorance are playing out (prarabdha karma) and you cannot change it, accept it. Don’t resist. Do what you can to ameliorate them with equanimity and through dharmic lifestyle choices. Know that it is not you and it will pass; this is what Isvara is bringing your way as the jiva and you must flow with it. Resistance keeps you tied to the person and is a guarantee of more suffering. The gunas are constantly changing and impersonal, like everything else in the apparent reality; what use is control? Karma yoga is the only solution as there is no way to fast-forward this process.
It is common that people who have realised the self still struggle with stubborn samskaras and with fears that seem to have no origin. The effects of ignorance take as long as they take to subside; it is not up to the jiva or to awareness.
The knowledge of how the gunas function alleviates existential pain and guilt and gives you x-ray vision into yourself and everyone else. It shows that no one is doing anything – or ever has. You can stop blaming yourself or anyone else for anything you did or anything that happened “to you.” Those who think that they are doers have no choice but to follow their natures. When you know you are not the doer, you can choose to drop “your” story. This is not to say you do not take appropriate action when required or that you would do harm to any part of the creation. You would naturally make choices that give peace of mind (sattva) and cause no injury, not because you feel guilt or duty-bound, but because you are doing what brings peace of mind. This is what following dharma means.
Lola: I know that there is only one jiva and one self, and when I thought about this, it just simply blew my mind. I compared it to being a piece on a big chess board. The whole thing makes me laugh out loud which I am sure is a normal reaction.
As the self, which I am, it all makes sense but once I venture into thinking about the mithya, it cracks me up.
Sundari: Yes, if this knowledge does not blow your mind, then you did not understand it! Vedanta is so counterintuitive yet so logical. This is why it is such a radical teaching and why we call ignorance beautiful intelligent ignorance. And this is why understanding Isvara/the gunas is essential if permanent freedom/happiness is what you are after. As we keep saying over and over again: Moksa is the discrimination of you, awareness, from the objects that appear in you 24/7. Ignorance is only a problem if you don’t know what it is.
Lola: With regard to self-knowledge, I feel I am between indirect and direct knowledge. (Thinking about that statement, I am not sure that is possible but I hope you get my gist.) I know I am the self but when I entangle the jiva bit, it makes me feel I have not genuinely realised the self.
Sundari: Yes, this is very common. We call it the “firefly” stage – direct knowledge flickers on and off. Just stick to your sadhana. It will take as long as it takes. What price freedom? It is priceless.
Lola: As one who is “enlightened,” do you still have the non-experiencing witness, aka the knower? Or should I say, are you still the silent witness/watcher?
Sundari: Think about what you asked here. Firstly, I am not enlightened or unenlightened. I am the Light, the non-experiencing witness. Secondly, if this is the case, how can I “still have” the non-experiencing witness/knower if I am the non-experiencing witness/knower? I am the knowing principle.
The witness and the witnessed are also called the seer and the seen. There are two witnesses, what is called the “opaque” witness (saguna brahman) and the “transparent witness” (nirguna brahman). The opaque witness is the jiva with qualities looking at awareness through its conditioning (vasanas). The transparent witness is pure awareness with no qualities conditioning it and it is the witness of the opaque witness. Isvara is also referred to as saguna brahman, or the knower with qualities (the gunas), although Isvara is not conditioned by the gunas, whereas the jiva is.
Swami Dayananda says in his commentaries on Vivekachudamani: “Atma is already self-evident and it is alupta-drk, a seer that never ceases, it never even winks. It is always a witness. But it is a witness only with reference to whatever is seen. By itself it sees only pure consciousness. This self-evident atma is brahman; that is the teaching”.
This quote clarifies the distinction of saguna and nirguna brahman. The self is a seer that never began or ceases and is the all-seeing eye or “I” that sees only itself because there are no objects for it to see. It is self-effulgent and there is nothing but itself. Saguna brahman is apparently influenced by sattva, and as the mind gets sattvic, the witness seems to be clear and this clarity, or pureness, is what people assume to be holy.
One eventually has to drop all these terms, even nirguna brahman, because nirguna implies saguna. It would be more appropriate to say that the self, seeing only itself, is that which knows the seer with reference to the seen only when maya is operating because with the appearance of maya there is something for awareness to see, i.e. objects.
Lola: Doing self-enquiry over and over again is the key because somehow the knowledge untangles everything.
Sundari: There is no way around “doing the work” as ignorance is hardwired. The work, of course, is subjecting the mind constantly to self-inquiry in order that it is purified by self-knowledge.
Lola: I love the feeling of oneness I get in my quiet moments. For me, it is like it just sits there in the background. If one is enlightened, does that knowing remain all the time, as opposed to just momentarily?
Sundari: The oneness feeling is there all the time (and has always been there all the time) but it does not really feel like anything. Sattva can appear as a feeling or a thought but both are objects known to you, awareness. This is why the bliss of the self is called anantam, which is not bliss as in the feeling of bliss, but the limitless bliss of self-knowledge. Any other bliss, being experiential, ends. Self-knowledge never ends. This is why people get so hooked on having epiphanies – they are like spiritual orgasms. They feel so good. And there is nothing wrong with that; it is great to let go of the body, to lose the tamasic heaviness of matter, and to experience the feeling of the indescribable lightness of pure awareness. The problem is, one can get trapped there, or trapped thinking you have to “get there.” We call it the “golden cage” of sattva. It is the last thing to let go of before moksa, i.e. seeking the bliss of moksa as an experience. Knowledge is just knowledge, and what changes when one has self-knowledge is how and why one contacts objects. That’s all. But that is all it takes to end existential suffering.
Lola: I often think I have got it, and then I get wrapped up in jiva and think, “How can I have got it?” It seems to me knowing I am awareness, the self, and then having knowledge of jiva, or should I say, Isvara, is like having your cake and eating it. You get to have fun as “an actor” and the bliss from the knowledge. I always knew God just wants us to have fun down here, if we let “Him.” Do you understand my line of thinking?
Sundari: Absolutely! Self-knowledge is having your cake and eating it! There is a limited kind of bliss in objects, just not permanent bliss. Think about it: If you think that the joy is in the object, you have to constantly chase objects in order to complete yourself. Then assuming you get what you want, you have to worry about losing it. The only time you can really enjoy objects is when you know that the joy is not in the object but in you. Then you can enjoy the objects for what they are, without expecting them to deliver something they are incapable of doing (and you no longer need). You also never have to fear losing anything because you know that that is not possible. Just look at the freedom in that! Think about the suffering involved in ignorance of this truth. Truly, it is mind-blowing.
Lola: Finally, how do you know you have got permanent, direct knowledge? That is what I am wondering. It is all up to Isvara but if it should occur, how will I know?
Sundari: You will know because you won’t need to ask this question again! Seriously. The qualities of being there are the steps to get there – not that there is a “there” to get to because you are already there. Awareness pervades every atom in existence; there is no “in” or “out of” awareness and there is nowhere that you are not. You also cannot become “more” aware either. You can only become less ignorant. The effects of ignorance take as long as they take to be removed. Continued self-inquiry is the key. Take a stand in awareness as awareness; practice the opposite thought. Track the “I” word. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
Lola: I had to laugh the other day while Frank and I were making our supper and I think I accused him of doing something silly, and he said, “I didn’t do it!” I said, “I know you didn’t do it,” and as soon as I said it, I nearly broke into laughter because I realised that no, he did not do it, or anything for that matter, because Isvara did it!!!!! It so simple – when you remember!!!!
Sundari: Yes, indeed, life gets to be really funny when you know how it works! It is also such a relief because you realise that no one is doing anything; if they could be different, they would be. True forgiveness is not possible if you do not know this.
Lola: Finally, in my current reading about the relationship between jiva/Isvara which you mentioned in one of your emails, I am getting the impression that Isvara is also an object in awareness, or have I made that up? It is all a brain-twister but I will get there eventually, and not to mention maya!! Well, not yet…
Sundari: No, that is a good question. Many people think that Isvara is real. Here it is the teaching again: Isvara associated with maya is conscious (although Isvara is not a jiva, or person) and is not modified by ignorance/maya (the gunas). Isvara is conscious because with the appearance of maya, there is something for awareness to be to be conscious of, i.e. objects. Isvara (awareness in the role of Creator associated with maya) “merges” back into pure awareness at the end of the creation cycle, so Isvara is also not unchanging and not always manifest.
Isvara is always present in awareness but it is either manifest or unmanifest with reference to awareness. Therefore Isvara associated with maya, like the jiva, is not real either, although in terms of the apparent person Isvara is “relatively” real and eternal. In other words, Isvara associated with maya is eternal or permanent with reference to the jiva and the objects it experiences, but impermanent with reference to awareness. To say that Isvara associated with maya is eternal with reference to the jiva does not mean that Isvara is limitless with reference to awareness. This is because ignorance, or maya, only “operates” on a tiny fraction of awareness and because Isvara is resolved back into awareness at the end of the creation cycle. The words “operates on a tiny fraction of awareness” are also used simply to put maya in perspective, because the self has no parts and cannot be quantified. It is important to understand this because “partially covered” means that awareness is never actually covered, because it is aware of the partial covering brought about by the manifestation of maya.
Lola: Bless you, Sundari. And thanks for listening. Isaiah’s name popped up on the webinar list on Sunday. My heart nearly exploded with delight. I do feel drawn to him. I am sure there is a reason why we resonate with some and not others which as the self is a bit daft but hey, I must remember I DID NOT write the script because Isvara did. I might get that tattooed on my jiva. What do you think???
Sundari: You are most welcome, Lola, anytime! I know what you mean, and Isaiah is a very special soul. He told me yesterday that he will soon be back in the ShiningWorld saddle, and he will be happy to write for us again, which is great!
Lola: PS: I wondered about when we know of someone who is unwell, or like when you held a vigil for James while he had his operation: If all is perfect, why bother? The thought came to my mind that it is a form of devotion and love maybe? I am currently lighting a candle for someone I know who is dying of cancer. Is it just simply a form of sending out love which is all that is anyway? Just a part in the play?
Sundari: Prayer involves focusing the mind on a single object for a length of time thus invoking the self for a specific purpose. It is sending out the love you are to the “other” who you know is not other, so you bother because as awareness you see everything as awareness. You understand that prarabdha karma is playing out, so you know everything is perfect, all Isvara. Prayer should not be about wanting things to be different but offered in the spirit of devotion to the self, not really for a particular outcome, because you know that you are not the doer and the results of any action or thought are not up to you. So although you can pray for a specific outcome, it is done so in the spirit of karma yoga.
Problems arise when the doer thinks it can effect change through its own actions – which one can, to some degree. But there are many situations that are not a result of one’s state of mind and are not in the control of the person because the subtle body belongs to Isvara. Take Ramana, for instance: He was a great saint who lived a pure, sattvic life and had a great state of mind, yet he died of cancer. The karma comes to the subtle body, which a jnani knows belongs to Isvara.
Health or illness is a result of karma. If one superimposes what belongs to the sattva/Isvara onto the individual or jiva (mithya), then you are thinking as a person, not as awareness. Meaning that you think the karma comes to you and therefore that the suffering belongs to you because you are identified with it. If you know that you are awareness, you see the suffering taking place in the mind (subtle body), so you are free of the suffering.
Karma seems to be there for the jiva because jiva is ignorant of its nature as awareness and interprets what happens in its environment. Karma is a matter of identification or interpretation, although the body/mind may still apparently experience pain, like Ramji with his heart condition. This is Isvara, nothing to be done about it. We know that it has nothing to do with us, so we are always above it, observing it, free of it.
Karma is real if you think it is real; it is almost impossible to understand because the one trying to understand it is in the dharma/karma field and part of the field. It is like trying to understand the mind of Isvara; it cannot be done. Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita: “On the topic of karma, even the wise are perplexed.”
~ Much love and light to you, Sundari